Tabs Open #18: Simply A Pretty Cover For The Bones

A few days ago my mom sent me a news item that I think’s pretty instructive regarding our current political moment. (It bears mentioning that I love it when people send me stuff to read; more often than not the links that help scaffold my thoughts in this newsletter are ones I had shared with me by smarter, more curious people.)

The headline reads as follows: “10,000 in Appalachia will see medical debt forgiven, highlighting national issue.

A very cool and normal thing about our country is that it’s possible to consolidate and buy other people’s debt in bulk; there’s also a sort of CostCo element to the whole thing, where if you buy a bunch of it at once you actually save quite a bit of cash. To wit:

I only took Econ 101 so I can’t be considered an expert in the finer nuances of money but how do you read that excerpt and not come away thinking that the debt economy is a) pretty much fake and/or b) a house of cards? The creditors would’ve happily continued soaking those 10,000 folks for decades, knowing they’d never fully recoup but letting people drown in debt anyway. And it turns out the margins on that drowning were so thin that they took 1% of it and considered it settled in the end.

It took two rich guys making a commendable decision to wipe out untold years of this particular type of suffering for these people. What does that need to look like at scale?

Could it be that the entire framework is (depending on which side of the transaction you’re on) completely irredeemable? That “better access” and “consumer choices,” as they relate to healthcare, don’t mean a goddamn thing to anyone except people who wear lanyards for a living?

It’s this howling immiseration that makes me so political and makes me resent the myth-making that people who should’ve known better engaged in while Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president, and in the years that have followed. Biden is running his presidential campaign pretty nakedly in the service of insurance companies, peddling the lie that a transition to Medicare for All would require some period of time where people went without any coverage whatsoever. It’s doubly rich given that there are already something like 30 million people in America who fit that category. All that folksy, friendly ice cream eating and lady-nuzzling over the years is a coat of paint splashed hastily over a decades-long record of white supremacist apologia and corporate sycophancy.

This line from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods isn’t about Joe Biden but I can’t help but think of him when I remember it.

“That,” said Wednesday, driving off, “is the eternal folly of man. To be chasing after the sweet flesh, without realizing that it is simply a pretty cover for the bones. Worm food. At night, you're rubbing yourself against worm food. No offense meant.”

(I had really intended to be cheerful in the newsletter this week, given what a stone bummer last week’s issue was. One of these days!)

I have found that orienting myself toward a political ideology that is girded by class has, perversely, given me some hope despite how starkly it makes clear the degree to which the deck is stacked against most of us. Politics and class are not, as many believe, a series of aesthetic choices and cultural signifiers. They are—as one presidential candidate recently put it—very real determinants of who gets to live and who doesn’t.

As a teacher it’s my responsibility to assign homework. I can’t do that here but regardless I would implore you all to grab yourself a copy of Eric Blanc’s excellent Red State Revolt, which I think is both a useful model for how working class people can take power and a necessary pushback to the liberal trope of “dumb hicks in X region voting against their own self-interest.” Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona took on their state legislatures last year and won varying gains not just for themselves, but for their students and the other public sector workers in their states.

Alright I think all five of you still reading at this point deserve a treat. Here’s Jeff Bridges—yes, that one—narrating a journey through a canyon to help you fall asleep, if my writing hasn’t done that already.

Be well, everybody. Catch you next week.